It's time to round out the top five, ladies and gents. So far, the votes have not been close at all. That tells me that either everyone agrees on the top four, or you people are so dedicated to peace and harmony that you all just want to get along. I'm doubting the latter is true.
With Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, and now Marco Scandella off the board, who will be next? With a growing prospect pool, it should be interesting to see where you, the readers, shake out the rest of the list.
Enjoy the vote, everyone.
We are using using Dan's definition of prospect from last year:
Requirements for rookies:
*Under the age of 27
**Has played less than 53 NHL Games (some exceptions apply e.g Gillies)
***Has played less than 4 years of pro hockey
Still in the Game:
Casey Wellman - Houston Aeros
After landing the top college free agent prize last summer, the Wild sent their prize to Houston to further develop. He also got a taste of NHL action, and performed admirably in the role he was given. Wellman looks to be a top six forward, which in the Wild organization is still not loaded with top end talent, but is suddenly rather crowded. Wellman has proven he deserves his chance, and with Mike Yeo behind the bench, maybe Wellman gets the first call up to fill an injury hole in the top six.
Jonas Brodin - Fargestads
The first of the 2011 NHL Draftees to make the poll, Brodin was impressive at Wild development camp. Brodin's skating has been praised, hearing words like "skates like the wind." I'm still not sure how the wind skates, but if it's good, then so be it. He is not an offensive d-man by any means, so his defensive and puck moving abilities better justify his 10th overall draft position. We don't have much to work with on Brodin, but he has to be considered near the top of the prospect rankings, if only because he is the newest member of the top first round pick club for the Wild.
Matt Hackett - Houston Aeros
Hackett took the starting goalie job in Houston as his own after Anton Khudobin was traded. All Hackett did from then on was backstop the Aeros to the Calder Cup finals. His form is solid, his technique quiet. Hackett is the de facto starter in Houston next season, but with Darcy Kuemper and his 7215 awards from last season coming in, there will be competition. Hackett is the top goalie prospect, but nothing says that lasts through this season. Should be fun to watch how it plays out.
Zack Phillips - St. Johns Sea Dogs
Phillips became a member of the Wild via a draft pick brought back from trading Brent Burns. If the pressure wasn't on this kid just being a first round pick for the Wild, it was doubled after being forever tied to the successes and failures of a fan favorite. Ninety-five points playing pivot for Jonathan Huberdeau, Phillips is already a champion winning the coveted Memorial Cup this past season. It will certainly be interesting to see if Phillips can continue those numbers without Huberdeau, and equally interesting to see if Wild fans can forgive him for playing for the same team that James Sheppard once played for.
Jared Spurgeon - Minnesota Wild / Houston Aeros
Is Spurgeon still a "prospect?" He still has to earn and keep his spot on the roster. He still meets Dan's definition. That's good enough for me. Spurgeon has performed admirably, and is certainly the most NHL ready prospect. Does that make him better than the guys a year or two away? Or does potential upside play a part? That's for you to decide. Spurgeon is certainly a top prize, and is no longer someone anyone has doubts about. If this were December, my bet is, Spurgeon doesn't make the list because he will have too many games played. What that means for his rank? Cast your vote.
Larsson is still a relative unknown to most, playing in the Swedish Elite League, and having a fair amount of success. He certainly is one of the top prospects, but how his game will translate, how his chemistry is with teammates, and who those teammates will even be are all still up in the air. With Jonas Brodin in the mix now, the Wild have some strong Swedish connections. Eight points in 43 games is not overly reassuring, but how he develops and the role he plays as he grows will tell us more.
Turns out, we had Brodin on the poll, but not in the report. My bad.
Where Brodin fits in the scheme of things should be fun to see debated. He is clearly a year or two from even sniffing the NHL, and defenseman are notorious slow to develop. The reports I read say he is more NIck Schultz than Brent Burns, but likely falls somewhere in between. The Wild could use a top tier, shut down, puck moving defenseman in the ranks. His selection was not popular at the draft, with fans or certain authors writing this particular post, but he is slowly growing on us. His skating is incredible, his vision is top-tier, and he was certainly worth a top ten pick.
We need to add into the mix some of the guys that have been around awhile. Almond was the number eight prospect according to Dan last December. Is he still there? Higher? Lower? It always seems that Almond is just on the edge of making his mark in the NHL, only to be sent back to Houston yet again. Where he fits in the lineup is still tough to predict. He strikes me as a Kyle Brodziak type player, that fits a bit everywhere, and not completely anywhere. He may not be the next coming, but he sure needs to get an extended sniff. And soon.
Ah... Gillies. What do we do with Colton Gillies. The final member of the blown development club, Gillies looks to be ready to step into the NHL and play a role in the defensive, checking game. Certainly not what anyone wanted when the Wild traded up to select him, but hey... an NHL player is an NHL player, right? (This is where you reassure us by saying, "right.") It is tough to rank Gillies very high, but he still has to be considered somewhere. He is back on track to be where he should have been two years ago. Is he a late bloomer? A ruined project? As always, somewhere in between.
Injuries scare the bejebus out of fans, GMs, and players alike. Freak injuries, coupled with nagging injuries, Cuma has always been just about to find his groove, only to be knocked back down by the next injury on his sheet. It's too bad, too, because Cuma was well liked by many in the NHL, and was a bit of surprise when they selected him. He is an offensive type that has settled into a defensive role, and hopefully he can find some health, and find a role in the franchise. With d-men already tough to develop, and a glut of them in the organization, Cuma needs to do something, and soon, to stand out from the crowd. Here's hoping he does.